Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch



"June 19th.—Strange that wherever I am hospitably entertained I recompense my host by falling ill in his house. Since my last entry in this Journal I have been lying at the gate of death, smitten down with a sore sickness. It seems that the long exposure and weariness of my journey to the Peak threw me into a fever: but of this I should soon have recovered, were it not for my head, which I fear will never be wholly right again. That cowardly blow upon Malabar Hill has made a sad wreck of me; twice, when I seemed in a fair way to recovery, has my mind entirely given way. Mr. Eversleigh, indeed, assures me that my life has more than once been despaired of—and then what would have become of poor Margery? I hope I am thankful to God for so mercifully sparing my poor life, the more so because conscious how unworthy I am to appear before Him.

"I trust I did not betray my secret in my wanderings. Mr. Eversleigh tells me I talked the strangest stuff at times—about rubies and skeletons, and a certain dreadful face from which I was struggling to escape. But the security of my Journal and the golden clasp, which I recovered to-day, somewhat reassures me. I am allowed to walk in the garden for a short space every day, but not until to-day have I found strength to dig for my hoard. I can hardly describe my emotions on finding it safe and sound.

"Poor Margery! How anxious she must be getting at my silence. I will write her to-morrow—at least I will begin my letter to-morrow, for I shall not have strength to finish it in one day. Even now I ought not to be writing, but I cannot forbear making an entry in my recovered Journal, if only to record my thankfulness to Heaven for my great deliverance.

"June 22nd.—I have written to Margery, but torn the letter up on second thoughts, as I had better wait until I hear news of a vessel in which I can safely travel home. Mr. Eversleigh (who is very kind to me, though not so hearty as Mr. Sanderson) will not hear of my starting in my present condition. I wonder in what part of the world Colliver is travelling now.

"July 1st.—Oh, this weary waiting! Shall I never see the shores of England again? The doctor says that I only make myself worse with fretting; but it is hard to linger so—when at my journey's end lies wealth almost beyond the imagination, and (what is far more to me) the sight of my dear ones.

"July 4th.—In answer to my entreaties, Mr. Eversleigh has consented to make inquiries about the homeward-bound vessels starting from Colombo. The result is that he has at once allayed my impatience, and compassed his end of keeping me a little longer, by selecting— upon condition that I approve his choice—an East Indiaman due to sail in about a fortnight's time. The name of the ship is the Belle Fortune, and of the captain, Cyrus Holding. In spite of the name the ship is English, and is a barque of about 600 tons register. Her cargo consists of sugar and coffee, and her crew numbers some eighteen hands. To-morrow I am going down with Mr. Eversleigh to inspect her, but I am prepared beforehand to find her to my liking. The only pity is that she does not start earlier.

"July 6th.—Weak as I am, even yesterday's short excursion exhausted me, so that I felt unable to write a word last night. I have been over the Belle Fortune, and am more than pleased, especially with her captain, whose honest face took my fancy at once. I have a most comfortable cabin next to his set apart for me, at little cost, since it had been fitted up for a lady on the outward voyage: so that I shall still have a little money in pocket on my return, as my living, both here and at Bombay, has cost me nothing, and the doctor's bills have not exhausted my store. I wrote to Margery to-day, making as light of my illness as I could, and saying nothing of the business on Malabar Hill. That will best be told her when she has me home again, and can hold my hand feeling that I am secure.

"July 8th.—I have been down again to-day to see the Belle Fortune. I forgot to say that she belongs to Messrs. Vincent and Hext, of Bristol, and is bound for that port. The only other passengers are a Dr. Concanen and his wife, who are acquaintances of Mr. Eversleigh. Dr. Concanen is a physician with a good practice in Colombo, or was— as his wife's delicate health has forced him to throw up his employment here and return to England. Mr. Eversleigh introduced me to them this morning on the Belle Fortune. The husband is almost as tall as my host, and looks a man of great strength: Mrs. Concanen is frail and worn, but very lovely. To-day she seemed so ill that I offered to give up my cabin, which is really much more comfortable than theirs. But she would not hear of it, insisting that I was by far the greater invalid, and that a sailing vessel would quickly set her right again—especially a vessel bound for England. Altogether they promise to be most pleasant companions. I forgot to say that Mrs. Concanen is taking a native maid home to act as her nurse.

"July 11th.—We start in a week's time. I had a long talk with Captain Holding to-day; he hopes to make a fairly quick passage, but says he is short of hands. I have not seen the Concanens since.

"July 16th.—We sail to-morrow afternoon. I have been down to make my final preparations, and find my cabin much to my liking. Captain Holding is still short of hands.

"July 17th., 7.30 p.m.—We cast off our warps shortly after four o'clock, and were quickly running homeward at about seven knots an hour. The Concanens stood on deck with me watching Ceylon grow dim on the horizon. As the proud cone of Adam's Peak faded softly and slowly into the evening mist, and so vanished, as I hope, for ever out of my life, I could not forbear returning thanks to Providence, which has thus far watched over me so wonderfully. There is a fair breeze, and the hands, though short, do their work well to all appearances. There were only fifteen yesterday, three having been missed for about a week before we sailed; but I have not yet seen Captain Holding to ask him if he made up his number of hands at the last moment. Mrs. Concanen has invited me to their cabin to have a chat about England.

"July 18th.—I am more disturbed than I care to own by a very curious discovery which I made this morning. As I issued on deck I saw a man standing by the forecastle, whose back seemed familiar to me. Presently he turned, and I saw him to be Simon Colliver. He has most strangely altered his appearance, being dressed now as a common sailor, and wearing rings in his ears as the custom is. Catching sight of me, he came forward with a pleasant smile and explained himself.

"'It is no manner of use, Trenoweth; we're fated to meet. You did not expect to see me here in this get-up; but I learnt last night you were on board. You look as though you had seen a ghost! Don't stare so, man—I should say 'sir' now, I suppose—it's only another of fortune's rubs. I fell ill after that journey to the Peak, and although Railton nursed me like a woman—he's a good fellow, Railton, and not as rough as you would expect—I woke up out of my fever at last to find all the money gone. I'm a fellow of resource, Trenoweth, so I hit on the idea of working my passage home; by good luck found the Belle Fortune was short of hands, offered my services, was accepted—having been to sea before, you know—sold my old clothes for this costume—must dress when one is acting a part— and here I am.'

"'Is Railton with you?' I asked.

"'Oh, yes, similarly attired. I did not see you yesterday, being busy with the cargo, so that it's all the more pleasant to meet here. But work is the order of the day now. You'll give me a good character to the captain, won't you? Good-bye for the present.'

"I cannot tell how much this meeting has depressed me. Certainly I have no reason for disbelieving the man's story, but the frequency and strangeness of our meetings make it hard to believe them altogether accidental. I saw Railton in the afternoon: he is greatly altered for the worse, and, I should think, had been drinking heavily before he shipped; but the captain was evidently too short of hands to be particular. I think I will give the Concanens my tin box to hide in their cabin. Of course I can trust them, and this will baffle theft; the clasp I will wear about me. This is a happy idea; I will go to their cabin now and ask them. It is 9.30 p.m., and the wind is still fair, I believe.

"July 20th.—We have so far kept up an average speed of seven and a half knots an hour, and Captain Holding thinks we shall make even better sailing when the hands are more accustomed to their work. I spend my time mostly with the Concanens—who readily, by the way, undertook the care of my tin box—and find them the most agreeable of fellow-travellers. Mrs. Concanen has a very sweet voice, and her husband has learnt to accompany it on the guitar, so that altogether we spend very pleasant evenings.

"July 21st, 22nd, 23rd.—The weather is still beautiful, and the breeze steady. Last night, at about six in the evening, it freshened up, and we ran all night under reefed topsails in expectation of a squall; but nothing came of it. I trust the wind will last, not only because it brings me nearer home, but also because without it the heat would be intolerable. The mention of home leads me to say that Mrs. Concanen was most sympathetic when I spoke of Margery. It is good to be able to talk of my wife to this kind creature, and she is so devoted to her husband that she plainly finds it easy to sympathise. They are a most happy couple.

"July 24th.—Our voyage, hitherto so prosperous, has been marred to-day by a sad accident. Mr. Wilkins, the mate, was standing almost directly under the mainmast at about 4.30 this afternoon, when Railton, who was aloft, let slip a block, which descended on the mate's head, striking it with fearful force and killing him instantly. He was an honest, kindly man, to judge from the little I have seen of him, and, as Captain Holding assures me, an excellent navigator. Poor Railton was dreadfully upset by the effects of his clumsiness; although I dislike the man, I have not the heart to blame him when I see the contrition upon his face.

"July 25th, midnight.—We buried Wilkins to-day. Captain Holding read the burial service, and was much affected, for Wilkins was a great friend of his; we then lowered the body into the sea. I spent the evening with the Concanens, the captain being on deck and too depressed to receive consolation. Nor was it much better with us in the cabin. Although we tried to talk we were all depressed and melancholy, and I retired earlier than usual to write my Journal.

"July 26th to August 4th.—There has been nothing to record. The wind has been fair as yet throughout, though it dropped yesterday (Aug. 3rd), and we lay for some hours in a dead calm. We have recovered our spirits altogether by this time.

"August 5th.—One of our hands, Griffiths, fell overboard to-day and was drowned. He and Colliver were out upon the fore-yard when Griffiths slipped, and missing the deck, fell clear into the sea. The captain was below at the time, but rushed upon deck on hearing Colliver's alarm of 'Man overboard!' It was too late, however. The vessel was making eight knots an hour at the time, and although it was immediately put about, there was not the slightest hope of finding the poor fellow. Indeed, we never saw him again."

[At this point the Journal becomes strangely meagre, consisting almost entirely of disconnected jottings about the weather, while here and there occurs merely a date with the latitude and longitude entered opposite. Only two entries seem of any importance: one of August 20th, noting that they had doubled the Cape, and a second written two days later and running as follows:—]

"August 22nd.—Dr. Concanen came into my cabin early this morning and told me that his wife had just given birth to a son. He seemed prodigiously elated; and I congratulated him heartily, as this is the first child born to them. He stayed but a moment or so with me, and then went back to attend to his wife. I spent most of the day on deck with Captain Holding, who is unceasingly vigilant now. Wind continues steadily S.E."

[After this the record is again scanty, but among less important entries we found the following:—]

"August 29th.—Mrs. Concanen rapidly recovering The child is a fine boy: so, at least, the doctor says, though I confess I should have thought it rather small. However, it seems able to cry lustily.

"Sept. 6th.—Sighted Ascension Island.

"Sept. 8th, 9th.—Wind dropping off and heat positively stifling. A curious circumstance occurred today (the 9th), which shows that I did well to be careful of my Journal. I was sitting on deck with the Concanens, beneath an awning which the doctor has rigged up to protect us from the heat, when our supply of tobacco ran short. As I was descending for more I met Colliver coming out of my cabin. He was rather disconcerted at seeing me, but invented some trivial excuse about fetching a thermometer which Captain Holding had lent me. I am confident now that he was on the look-out for my papers, the more so as I had myself restored the thermometer to the captain's cabin two days ago. It is lucky that I confided my papers to the Concanens. As for Railton, the hangdog look on that man's face has increased with his travels. He seems quite unable to meet my eye, and returns short, surly answers if questioned. I cannot think his dejection is solely due to poor Wilkins' death, for I noticed something very like it on the outward voyage."

[Here follow a few jottings on weather and speed, which latter—with the exception of five days during which the vessel lay becalmed— seems to have been very satisfactory. On the 17th they caught a light breeze from N.E., and on the 19th passed Cape Verde. Soon after this the Journal becomes connected again, and so continues.]

"Sept. 24th.—Just after daybreak, went on deck, and found Captain Holding already there. This man seems positively to require no sleep. Since Wilkins' death he has managed the navigation almost entirely alone. He seemed unusually grave this morning, and told me that four of the hands had been taken ill during the night with violent attacks of vomiting, and were lying below in great danger. He had not seen the doctor yet, but suspected that something was wrong with the food. At this point the doctor joined us and took the captain aside. They conversed earnestly for about three minutes, and presently I heard the captain exclaiming in a louder tone, 'Well, doctor, of course you know best, but I can't believe it for all that.' Shortly after the doctor went below again to look after his patients. He was very silent when we met again at dinner, and I have not seen him since.

"Sept. 25th.—One of the hands, Walters, died during the night in great agony. We sighted the Peak of Teneriffe early in the afternoon, and I remained on deck with Mrs. Concanen, watching it. The doctor is below, analysing the food. I believe he is completely puzzled by this curious epidemic.

"Sept. 26th.—Wind N.E., but somewhat lighter. Three more men seized last night with precisely the same symptoms. With three deaths and five men ill, we are now left with but nine hands (not counting the captain) to work the ship. Walters was buried to-day. I learned from Mrs. Concanen that her husband has made a post mortem examination of the body. I do not know what his conclusions are.

"I open my Journal again to record another disquieting accident. It is odd, but I have missed one of the pieces of my father's clasp. I am positive it was in my pocket last night. I now have an indistinct recollection of hearing something fall whilst I was dressing this morning, but although I have searched both cabin and state-room thoroughly, I can find nothing. However, even if it has fallen into Colliver's hands, which is unlikely, he can make nothing of it, and luckily I know the words written upon it by heart. Still the loss has vexed me not a little. I will have another search before turning in to-night.

"Sept. 27th.—Wind has shifted to N.W. The doctor was summoned during the night to visit one of the men taken ill two nights before. The poor fellow died before daybreak, and I hear that another is not expected to live until night. The doctor has only been on deck for a few minutes to-day, and these he occupied in talk with the captain, who seems to have caught the prevailing depression, for he has been going about in a state of nervous disquietude all the afternoon. I expect that want of sleep is telling upon him at last. The clasp is still missing.

"Sept. 28th.—A rough day, and all hands busily engaged. Wind mostly S.W., but shifted to due W. before nightfall. Three of the invalids are better, but the other is still lying in a very critical state.

"Sept. 29th, 30th, Oct. 1st, 2nd.—Weather squally, so that we may expect heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay. All the invalids are by this time in a fair way of recovery, and one of them will be strong enough to return to work in a couple of days. Doctor Concanen is still strangely silent, however, and the captain's cheerfulness seems quite to have left him. Oh, that this gloomy voyage were over!

"Oct. 3rd.—Weather clearer. Light breeze from S.S.W.

"Oct. 5th.—Let me roughly put down in few words what has happened, not that I see at present any chance of leaving this accursed ship alive, but in the hope that Providence may thus be aided—as far as human aid may go—in bringing these villains to justice, if this Journal should by any means survive me.

"Last night, shortly before ten, I went at Doctor Concanen's invitation to chat in his cabin. The doctor himself was busily occupied with some medical works, to which, as his wife assured me, he had been giving his whole attention of late. But Mrs. Concanen and I sat talking together of home until close upon midnight, when the baby, who was lying asleep at her side, awoke and began to cry. Upon this she broke off her conversation and began to sing the little fellow to sleep. 'Home, Sweet Home' was the song, and at the end of the first verse—so sweetly touching, however hackneyed, to all situated as we—the doctor left his books, came over, and was standing behind her, running his hands, after a trick of his, affectionately through her hair, when the native nurse, who slept in the next cabin and had heard the baby crying, came in and offered to take him. Mrs. Concanen, however, assured her that it was not necessary, and the girl was just going out of the door when suddenly we heard a scream and then the captain's voice calling, 'Trenoweth! Doctor! Help, help!'

"The doctor immediately rushed past the maid and up the companion. I was just following at his heels when I heard two shots fired in rapid succession, and then a heavy crash. Immediately the girl fell with a shriek, and the doctor came staggering heavily back on top of her. Quick as thought, I pulled them inside, locked the cabin door, and began to examine their wounds. The girl was quite dead, being shot through the breast, while Concanen was bleeding terribly from a wound just below the shoulder: the bullet must have grazed his upper arm, tearing open the flesh and cutting an artery, passed on and struck the nurse, who was just behind. Mrs. Concanen was kneeling beside him and vainly endeavouring to staunch the flow of blood.

"Oddly enough, the attack, from whatever quarter it came, was not followed up; but I heard two more shots fired on deck, and then a loud crashing and stamping in the fore part of the vessel, and judged that the mutineers were battening and barricading the forecastle. I unlocked the door and was going out to explore the situation, when the doctor spoke in a weak voice—

"'Quick, Trenoweth! never mind me. I've got the main artery torn to pieces and can't last many more minutes—but quick for the captain's cabin and get the guns. They'll be down presently, as soon as they've finished up there.'

"Opening the door and telling Mrs. Concanen—who although white as a sheet never lost her presence of mind for a moment—to lock it after me, I stole along the passage, gained the captain's cabin, found two guns, a small keg of powder (to get at which I had to smash in a locker with the butt-end of one of the guns), and some large shot, brought I suppose for shooting gulls.

"I found also a large packet of revolver cartridges, but no revolver; and it suddenly struck me that the shots already fired must have been from the captain's revolver, taken probably from his dead body. Yes, as I remembered the sound of the shots I was sure of it. The mutineers had probably no other ammunition, and so far I was their master.

"Fearful that by smashing the locker I had made noise enough to be heard above the turmoil on deck, I returned swiftly and had just reached the door of Concanen's cabin, when I heard a shout above, and a man whom I recognised by the voice as Johnston, the carpenter, came rushing down the steps crying, 'Hide me, doctor, hide me!' As Mrs. Concanen opened the door in answer to my call, another shot was fired, the man suddenly threw up his hands and we tumbled into the cabin together. I turned as soon as I had locked and barricaded the door, and saw him lying on his face—quite dead. He had been shot in the back, just below the shoulder-blades.

"The doctor also was at his last gasp, and the floor literally swam with blood. As we bent over him to catch his words he whispered, 'It was Railton—that—I saw. Good-bye, Alice,' and fell back a corpse. I carried the body to a corner of the cabin, took off my jacket and covered up his face, and turned to Mrs. Concanen. She was dry-eyed, but dreadfully white.

"'Give me the guns,' she said quietly, 'and show me how to load them.'

"I was doing so when I heard footsteps coming slowly down the companion. A moment after, two crashing blows were struck upon the door-panel and Colliver's voice cried—

"'Trenoweth, you dog, are you hiding there? Give me up those papers and come out.'

"For answer I sent a charge of shot through the cabin door, and in an instant heard him scrambling back with all speed up the stairs.

"By this time it was about 3 a.m., and to add to the horrors of our plight the lamp suddenly went out and left us in utter darkness. I drew Mrs. Concanen aside—after strengthening the barricade about the door—put her and the child in a corner where she would be safe if they attempted to fire through the skylight, and then sat down beside her to consider.

"If, as I suspected, the mutineers had only the revolver which they had taken from the captain, they had but one shot left, for I had already counted five, and it was not likely that Holding—who always, as I knew, carried some weapon with him—would have any loose cartridges upon him at a time when no one suspected the least danger.

"Next, as to numbers. Excluding Captain Holding—now dead—and including the cook I reckoned that there were fourteen hands on board. Of these, five were sick and probably at this moment barricaded in the forecastle. One, the carpenter, was lying here dead, and from the shriek which preceded the captain's cry, another had already been accounted for by the mutineers.

"This reduced the number to eight. The next question was, how many were the mutineers? I had guessed at once that Colliver and Railton had a hand in the business, for (in addition to my previous distrust of the men) it was just upon midnight when we heard the first cry, that is to say, the time when the watch was changed, and I knew that these two belonged to the captain's watch. But could they be alone?

"It seemed impossible, and yet I knew no others among the crew to distrust, and certainly Davis, who was acting as mate at present, was, although an indifferent navigator, as true as steel. Moreover, the fact that the mutineers' success in shooting the doctor had not been followed up, made my guess seem more likely. Certainly Colliver and Railton were the only two of whom we could be sure as yet. Nevertheless the supposition was amazing.

"I had arrived at this point in my calculations when a yell which I recognised, told me that they had caught Cox the helmsman and were murdering him. After this came dead silence, which lasted all through the night.

"I must hasten to conclude this, for we have no light in the cabin, and I am writing now by the faint evening rays that struggle in through the sky-light. As soon as morning broke I determined to reconnoitre. Cautiously removing the barricade, I opened the cabin door and stole up the companion ladder. Arrived at the top I peered cautiously over and saw the mutineers sitting by the forward hatch, drinking. They were altogether four in number—Colliver, Railton, a seaman called Rogerson, who had lately been punished by Captain Holding for sleeping when on watch, and the cook, a Chinaman. Rogerson was not with the rest, but had hold of the wheel and was steering. The vessel at the time was sailing under crowded canvas before a stiff sou'-westerly breeze. I kept low lest Rogerson should see me, but he was obviously more than half drunk, and was chiefly occupied in regarding his comrades with anything but a pleasant air. Just as I was drawing a beautiful bead however, and had well covered Colliver, he saw me and gave the alarm; and immediately the three sprang to their feet and made for me, the Chinaman first. Altering my aim I waited until he came close and then fired. I must have hit him, I think in the ankle, for he staggered and fell with a loud cry about ten paces from me. Seeing this, I made all speed again down the ladder, turning at the cabin door for a hasty shot with the second barrel, which, I think, missed. The other two pursued me until I gained the cabin, and then went back to their comrade. The rest of the day has been quite quiet. Luckily we have a large tin of biscuits in the cabin, so as far as food goes we can hold out for some time. Mrs. Concanen and I are going to take turns at watching to-night.

"Oct. 6th, 4 p.m.—At about 1.30 a.m. I was sleeping when Mrs. Concanen woke me on hearing a noise by the skylight. The mutineers, finding this to be the only point from which they could attack us with any safety, had hit upon the plan of lashing knives to the end of long sticks and were attempting to stab us with these clumsy weapons. It was so dark that I could hardly see to aim, but a couple of shots fired in rapid succession drove them quickly away. The rest of the night was passed quietly enough, except for the cries of the infant, which are very pitiable. The day, too, has been without event, except that I have heard occasional sounds in the neighbourhood of the forecastle, which I think must come from the sick men imprisoned there, and attempting to cut their way out.

"Oct. 7th.—We are still let alone. Doubtless the mutineers think to starve us out or to lull us into a false security and catch us unawares. As for starvation, the box of biscuits will last us both for a week or more; and they stand little chance of taking us by surprise, for one of us is always on the watch whilst the other sleeps. They spent last night in drinking. Railton's voice was very loud at times, and I could hear Colliver singing his infernal song—

"'Sing hey! for the dead man's lips, my lads.'

"That man must be a fiend incarnate. I have but little time to write, and between every word have to look about for signs of the mutineers. I wonder whither they are steering us.

"Oct. 8th.—A rough day evidently, by the way in which the vessel is pitching, but I expect the crew are for the most part drunk. We must find some way of getting rid of the dead bodies soon. I hardly like to speak to Mrs. Concanen about it. Words cannot express the admiration I feel for the pluck of this delicate woman. She asked me to-day to show her how to use a gun, and I believe will fight to the end. Her child is ailing fast, poor little man! And yet he is happier than we, being unconscious of all these horrors.

"Oct. 9th, 3.30 p.m.—Sick of this inaction I made another expedition up the companion to-day. Rogerson was steering, and Railton standing by the wheel talking to him. He had a bottle in his hand and seemed very excited. I could not see Colliver at first, but on glancing up at the rigging saw a most curious sight. There was a man on the main-top, the boatswain, Kelly, apparently asleep. Below him Colliver was climbing up, knife in mouth, and was already within a couple of yards of him. I fired and missed, but alarmed Kelly, who jumped up and seized a block which he had cut off to defend himself with. At the same moment Railton and Rogerson made for me. As I retreated down the ladder I stumbled, the gun went off and I think hit Rogerson, who was first. We rolled down the stairs together, he on top and hacking at me furiously with a knife. At this moment I heard the report of a gun, and my assailant's grasp suddenly relaxed. He fell back, tripping up Railton who was following unsteadily, and so giving me time to gain the cabin door, where Mrs. Concanen was standing, a smoking gun in her hand. Before we could shut the door, however, Colliver, who by this time had gained the head of the stairs, fired, and she dropped backwards inside the cabin. Locking the door, I found her lying with a wound just below the heart. She had just time to point to her child before she died. Was ever so ghastly a tragedy?

"Oct. 10th.—Awake all night, trying to soothe the cries of the child, and at the same time keeping a good look-out for the mutineers. The sea is terribly rough, and the poor corpses are being pitched from side to side of the cabin. At midday I heard a cry on deck, and judged that Kelly had dropped from the rigging in pure exhaustion. The noise in the forecastle is awful. I think some of the men there must be dead.

"Oct. 11th, 5 p.m.—The child is dying. There is a fearful storm raging, and with this crew the vessel has no chance if we are anywhere near land. God help—"

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